Commissioners send Accessory Dwelling Unit proposal back to planning board
As local communities wrestle with how to address the growing need for workforce housing, the Town of Nags Head is considering adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a permitted use in the municipality to encourage a more varied and affordable housing inventory.
But some local residents and commissioners are worried about putting the welcome mat out too quickly for such structures. And last week, the town took a pause.
At their May 1 meeting, the Nags Head Commissioners unanimously voted to send a draft text amendment back to the town’s planning board for a second time so that board could look at the proposal and hammer out a laundry list of issues relating to ADUs — from density requirements, length of stay limits and size to allowable locations and parking requirements.
One of those urging caution is former Nags Head Mayor Robert Muller, who wrote in a memo to the commissioners that, “ADUs are being rushed into the Town Code with no explanation of why and little consideration of the real impacts they would have on the Town’s residents and property owners.”
Mayor Pro Tem Susie Walters, however, threw her support behind the proposal, stating at the meeting that, “We asked for an ordinance to be brought forward that addresses a multitude of needs, whether it is a year-round need, whether it is an aging-in-place need, a caregiver need…it’s a multitude of needs that ADUs can provide a solution to.”
One key focus of the debate over ADUs is whether to allow them in the town’s westside neighborhoods. Proponents argue that permitting them as a conditional use would help ease the housing crunch, while opponents say such structures could potentially change the landscape of those quiet residential neighborhoods and should be limited to the east side of the bypass.
The commissioners set a deadline of 60 days for the planning board to come back with a recommendation. If the town ultimately adopts the provision, it will join Dare County, along with the towns of Kitty Hawk, Manteo and Duck, which have all amended their zoning laws to make way for the accessory structures, but have only seen limited success in that effort.
The Town of Kill Devil Hills, while it doesn’t specifically address ADUs in its ordinance, permits two dwellings on lots of 20,000 square feet.
At the May 1 meeting, Muller cautioned the commissioners that ADUs in westside neighborhoods would create “enormous problems” and urged the board, town staff and the planning board to do their research before pushing such an ordinance through.
In his memo, Muller asserted that “Members of the Board of Commissioners have directed staff to develop an ordinance allowing ADUs but without any policy guidance, in fact they have bluntly refused to disclose why they want the ordinance considered.”
But Walters made the case for ADUs: “Our Nags Head residents, some of them are really struggling. We have 102 students in Nags Head who are on free and reduced lunch – 102 out of a total of 354. There is a need for affordable housing one way or another...We say we want to support small local businesses – well their employees need a place to live, whether it’s year-round or seasonal.”
Commissioner Webb Fuller said the board needs to clearly articulate its intention in having town staff draft the ordinance, stating that a land use planning group that met to discuss workforce housing “discussed workforce housing as a need on the Beach Road…and possibly to extend back a little to the bypass. They also discussed they didn’t want to change the neighborhoods on the west side.”
Nags Head Director of Planning and Development Michael Zehner told the board the current draft offers a host of options in terms of what zoning districts ADUs could be allowed in.
“We are not necessarily beholden to any of these districts in terms of a recommendation,” said Zehner, but he added that he’d be hesitant to allow ADUs on the beach road without clear guidelines on their use, since the location could mean ADUs would be used for vacation rentals rather than workforce housing.
As far as allowing ADUs in the westside neighborhoods as a conditional use, Zehner said that many communities see the structures as a less intrusive way to allow for more affordable housing or more housing units. “It’s not necessarily allowing for someone to construct anything more than they otherwise would” be permitted to under current regulations, he added.